The term "maximizing ones potential" could have been coined to describe the life of Jimmie Walker, who strode out of the New York ghetto first to educate himself and then to become one of the best-known television personalities in the United States.
Walker was born June 25, 1947, in the depths of New York South Bronx, famed for burnt-out buildings, pervasive neglect and disrepair but, to a very young boy, it was nothing more than "the neighborhood."
Life in the projects centered around basketball courts and ignoring school. Jimmie never thought of performing as a potential occupation. It was basketball that held his interest, but Jimmie at fifteen was only six feet tall and weighed in at 129 pounds. He left school before graduating and worked a number of odd jobs, eventually landing a delivery job at the Grand Union Market at a salary of $47 per week – before taxes.
Making an arrangement with his boss to end each shift early, Jimmie worked all day, then attended Theodore Roosevelt High School at night until he received his diploma and information from a teacher about SEEK, the federally funded Search for Education, Evaluation and Knowledge which accepts students who need an educational "half-way house" before college. SEEK arranged for Jimmie to study the art of announcing and the trade of radio engineering at the RCA Technical Institute. Jimmie started as an engineer, which required a first-class license available only by study and by passing a test. Within a year he had earned his first-class ticket to the future.
Jimmie walked into a small radio station, WRVR, and was immediately hired as a part-time engineer at a salary of $100.00 per week. He continued to study at SEEK, learning about mathematics and literature. At 19, Walker has some major grammatical stumbling blocks, but his writing became stronger when he began writing for a class in Oral Interpretation – and Jimmie discovered he was a FUNNY writer. He penned a piece, delivered it to his SEEK classmates, and they howled! Asked one appreciative teenager, "Are you a comedian?" Walker said, "I guess I am." And he was.
Now defined, Jimmie lost no time in finding his first professional gig. It was 1967, and he had left SEEK and traded up his "day job" to work at WMCA radio for $250.00 a week. A mutual friend then introduced him to The Lost Poets. The group dedicated to performing militant poetry, needing an opening act. Following a successful audition, Walker opened for the Poets at the East Wind in Harlem on New Years Eve, 1967. He did five minutes, floored the crowd of 350 and stayed with the Poets for 18 months while he gained confidence and built an act.
By 1969 Jimmie performed at the African Room in Manhattan along with a few other new talents, including Bette Milder, David Brenner and Steve Landesberg. David Brenner got his break and then helped Walker and the others, moving them all to Budd Friedmans Improv in New York where they occasionally got on stage. Brenner and his "disciples" got hot at Budds and became onstage regulars.
In those days, doing "The Tonight Show" was a direct line to the Big Time. Brenner made it first, followed by Landesberg, Milder and Freddie Prinz, but by 1972 Jimmie still hadnt scored the "big break." Then Brenner, Landesberg and Milder scheduled for the then powerful "Jack Paar Show", refused to guest unless Walker was given a spot, and the Paar staff gave in. Jimmies first guest spot was successful beyond anyones expectations. Dan Rowan, who had seen the show, called for Jimmie to fly to Los Angeles to guest on a "Laugh In" special. This followed with a second guest spot on the "Jack Paar Show", and a contract with CBS to perform his act each week as the audience warm-up for "Carluccis Department" a sitcom.
Upon moving to Los Angeles, Walker saw great writing potential at LAs Comedy Store and he hired many of the non-working comics as writers for his comedy act. Some of those comics included; Jay Leno, David Letterman, Louie Anderson, Jeff Stein and Frank Dungin (Executive Producers: Barney Miller and Mr. Belvedere), Mark Curtis and Rod Ash (Executive Producers: Shelly Duvalls Fairy Tale Theater), Mike Preminger (Writer: Nothing in Common), Larry Jacobson (Executive Producer: Late Night with David Letterman, Larry Sanders Show, Mad About You & Married With Children), Wayne Kline (Writer: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno), Byron Allen (Comic and co-host of Real People), Steve Odekirk (Writer: Dumber & Dumber and Ace Ventura 2).
The flush of success gave Walker the confidence to give up his day job in 1972. Jimmie was now working regularly in clubs. Spotted by Norman Lears casting director, Jimmie accepted a part in a new comedy series, "Good Times". "Dyn-o-mite!" was the phase and it was made famous nationwide. Time Magazine named him Comedian of the Decade (1969).
It was a heady existence. The fame grew. Walker did the comedy album, "Dyn-o-mite!" and it was a best seller and a Grammy nominee, but stand-up comedy was still his first love. When the series ended a six year run in 1979, Aaron Spelling offered Walker a starring role in the short-lived "B.A.D. Cats" and returned to cast him again in 1983 in "At Ease", an ABC series about a bunch of United States Army misfits. Walker was also involved in the 1986 sitcom "Bustin Loose" (Universal Studios). More recently he has been on "Blossom", "Dream On", "The Larry Sanders Show", "Night Stand" and "In The House."
In addition to his TV career Walker has appeared on the big screen. He has had roles in "Airplane", "Lets Do It Again" (with Sidney Portier and Bill Cosby), as well as "Home Alone 2."
Walkers work has not gone unnoticed, he was the recipient of the first annual NAACP Image Award. He has been nominated for two Golden Globe Awards. One of his four Showtime Specials was nominated for a Cable Ace Award.
Walker tours the country 35-40 weeks a year doing his stand-up comedy, 8-10 of those weeks he is working in Las Vegas. He works comedy clubs across America as a headline act, and has opened for the likes of: Tina Turner, James Brown, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Tony Bennett, Roy Orbison, Randy Travis, Conway Twitty and Alabama.
Walker also performs on late night TV. He has been on "The Late Show With David Letterman" over 25 times, "Politically Incorrect" over 15 times and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" several times. Jimmie has also appeared on "Crook and Chase" as well as "Prime Time Country." In his spare times he writes scripts for TV and movies. He has also written articles on race and entertainment for both the "Wall Street Journal" and "Los Angeles Times."
Walker has been doing hard hitting political and issue oriented talk radio for over a quarter century and has worked for a number of stations around the country, including 710 Talk in LA, WHIO in Dayton Ohio, WOAI in San Antonio, KMJ in Fresno, and WLS in Chicago. Jimmie JJ Walker can be heard on HuskeRadio 1290 KKAR from 3:00pm to 6:00pm every weekday.